In the late 1950s and ’60s, Lee Bontecou created large-scale sculptures in fabric and metal that blended organic and mechanical forms in immersive, even vertiginous works that often project three-dimensionally into the viewer’s space. She is one of a very small number of women to gain broad recognition as artists during this time, and an even smaller subset of women making large-scale sculpture. Her works of this period have been linked to those by cubist artists of the early twentieth century, but in Bontecou’s work monochromatic, sooty palettes and fragmented spaces evolve into three-dimensional forms.
To make Untitled (1962) Bontecou glued or wired canvas and other fabrics to a welded steel frame. The resulting circular forms jut out and recede around a deep central void, alternately recalling industrial forms – such as jet engines and gas masks of World War II – and wounded bodily forms, replete with stitched skin. Some see her work as gendered, alluding to female genitalia and the birth canal. The artist herself, however, has firmly resisted that interpretation, instead linking the voids in her sculptures to the mysterious, the unknown, and the sublime. Writing in 1963, she explained her intention to “build things that express our relation to this country – to other countries – to this world – to other worlds – in terms of myself. To glimpse some of the fear, hope, ugliness, beauty, and mystery that exists in all of us and which hangs over all the young people today.”